A year before OM International unveiled its global mission statement – establishing “vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least reached” – OM Near East Field (Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon) agreed on a statement with nearly the same sentiment. For long-term OM worker Diane*, the ministry field’s clear focus on church planting (CP) mirrored her own mind set, gained from years of research and field experience.
In autumn 2014, she joined a CP-focused team in the Near East. But when her residency application led to being blacklisted from that country and started a year-long limbo, she decided to launch a new team in another location.
“When we started this team, we said what we really want is a team that is focused on planting churches and finding groups that will reproduce. I had come to the point that I really needed a team around me. I cannot do it alone,” Diane emphasised.
From the beginning, this team (initially two women, then three) wanted to identify and implement important principles inherent to CP and disciple making movements (DMM).
Nancy*, the third member of the team who previously spent six years in a neighbouring country, chose her current team in order to better learn how to practice making disciples. “The different kinds of experiences we have and the diversity…make the team strong,” she said. “Everyone adds something different to the team, but it makes it also one.”
“I look at my little team, and we are all very different and have different gifts,” Diane described. Working together is “not just about organising our time to go on visits together, but… how do we use our gifts together for the sake of church planting?”
Extraordinary prayer is one of the hallmarks of making disciples. Since Diane and her team were starting 'from scratch', they decided to build prayer into their schedules—thirty minutes of shared prayer daily plus one day a week of team fasting and prayer.
“Personally, it helps me to stay so more more focused on God as the One that’s working. It helps me to trust more in God than in my own skill,” Diane shared. “We spend a lot of time praying for other people, and we are growing together in a spiritual sense as a group that prays together for the community.” By taking an entire day for prayer, “we can pray for everyone we know. We’re not going to run out of time.”
“For me, it’s the centre,” Nancy added. “I’m really happy with this day of prayer and spending time together as team and sharing all the relationships. I don’t want to miss it…Prayer is number one to go out and see disciple making happening.”
Practicing extraordinary prayer, sowing intentionally and giving team members permission to speak into each others’ ministries are three keys, Diane said. “We need the different gifts that people bring to the team.”
The women also need each other for ministry. “Jesus sent people in twos. We try to make a point of doing a lot of ministry together,” Diane explained. Having worked extensively on her own, teaming up on visits is “not something that I find very easy,” she admitted. “Families usually prefer one person or the other person…they tell you all the time. For us, it’s like a spiritual struggle. We will not take on the comparisons.”
In fact, Diane said, differences can sharpen ministry. Maybe one woman is good at making new relationships, while another can easily bring up spiritual topics in conversations. Teammates can challenge each other to find new families if longer standing relationships stop showing spiritual interest.
After participating in an inter-organisational disciple-making training, Diane said she also focused on clear identification and invitation. “I think it’s so important that people know very early on what I’m about, and I don’t make false promises.”
“Whenever you come into a family, there are always these questions that people ask you: ‘Who are you? Where are you from? Why aren’t you married?’” Diane shared. “How do I use these questions to tell them that I’m someone who follows God and loves Him, and He is changing my life. And how do I move from that into an invitation: ‘God can do this for you, too. He can change your life and country and the world.’”
“We would love to see things happen quickly and have lots of people hear the gospel, but our goal is not to do things in a certain timeframe or see a certain number, but to make people into disciples with enough depth,” Diane stated. “A disciple is always someone who makes other disciples.”
Often, the women need several visits to determine whether the people they meet have sincere spiritual interest and if they will share the stories they learn with others.
For instance, Nancy talked about one woman who “already had an interest in getting the Bible. She was asking questions and she wanted to read together.” Later, the lady lost some of her eagerness to study.
“She says she believes that her help is from God, and she is asking me again about the book,” Nancy said. “Now I’m finding out where she is and what she really wants. [Does she] want to choose to follow Jesus or is it a polite way to connect with me?”
In another family, Diane met a husband and wife who initially showed interested in the Bible. The husband told Diane he had once dreamed that he opened the gospel and read that God is one.
“That’s a fantastic dream,” she replied. “Let me show you where it’s written.”
During the visit, another family member protested the husband’s dream, saying that Christians believe in three gods. When Diane got ready to leave, however, the woman asked her where she could get a gospel.
“I could give you a book, but it’s much more fun to read it together. Would you like to study the Bible?” Diane asked.
The next time Diane visited the family, that same lady had invited an aunt and uncle, who had stayed with the family an extra night in order to read the Bible.
“At the end, everything we do, it’s all dependent on what God wants to do. In some ways we’re still waiting for God to lead us to the people who will take the gospel and run with it in their communities,” Diane said.
Pray for the ministry team to develop perseverance. “I think we’ve seen a lot of relationships developing three steps forward and five steps back,” Diane shared. “You have these people who get teary-eyed when they see a Bible, and they really want to read it, and suddenly they just don’t answer your phone calls.”
Pray, too, for more people to join the field. “We all have a long-term commitment, but for a stable team we need more people,” Diane said. “Someone who loves to learn and who wants to learn in community, who wants to be part of a team that is not just a working community but also family in the sense of caring for each other’s needs, who has a very good level of Arabic, who loves to learn but knows its good to get input, and who’s passionate about making disciples and planting churches.”
*Name changed for security
Nicole James is an international writer for OM, passionate about publishing stories of God’s work among the nations and telling people about the wonderful things He is doing around the world.